Following the nation-wide school garden trend, Morris, her colleagues and students are working with first graders at L.P. Vaughn during the fall semester. School gardens have flowered in popularity because they provide opportunities to combine academic instruction with life-long skills and healthy eating.
“When we started the project, it was geared towards science instruction, but the teachers wanted to incorporate writing and language arts, as well as social studies into the lessons,” Morris said. “We had a guest speaker from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who talked about fur-bearing animals and their habitat and how they affect vegetation. Students also learn about the weather and how it affects plants.”
During the Spring 2010 semester, Northwestern State professors and teacher candidates worked with first graders from four classes at L.P. Vaughn, talking about how vegetables affect health and nutrition. Maintaining school gardens over summer and holiday breaks is a continuous challenge, but Morris was able to maintain the gardens enough for fall semester projects. In the past few months, she helped students plant a garden outside a classroom in which they grew potatoes, garlic and broccoli.
“The students respond better to this than to a passive style of instruction,” Morris said. “They really like when we do something hands-on.”
NSU’s College of Education and Human Development faculty are required to stay connected to the area’s K-12 schools, Morris said, and working with at-risk schools like Parks and Vaughn is rewarding when youngsters get excited about learning. Over the last year, the students have created shrub beds, planted butterfly-attracting flower beds and learned about ladybugs, which they released into the garden. Future projects might include creating composting bins and rain barrels and vermiculture projects.
“Volunteering has always been important to me,” said the enthusiastic Morris. “I am always trying to find a way to work with children, but I have never dived into a project quite like this.” Morris is a Louisiana Master Gardener, which requires members to participate in 40 hours of community service their first year and 20 hours per year after that to maintain membership.
“Community partnerships are so important to this grant,” she said, crediting help from Master Gardeners, the LSU Agriculture Extension Office and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. This summer, Morris and other volunteers will maintain the new shrub beds and monitor weed control. She plans to reapply for funding through Louisiana Serve Commission, which manages the Learn & Serve K-12 grants in Louisiana, as well as seeking other grant sources.
“Staying connected to the K-12 students makes me a better professor and I can take the experience back to my college classroom. All the students are learning the importance of hands-on learning,” Morris said. “This is the type of project that you have to keep going.”